Acculturation And Behaviour Of Ethnic Minority Consumers Cultural Studies Essay

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This research brings an analysis of acculturation based on different perspectives. It discusses what involves the process of ethnic minority groups inserted in a large society with a different culture. It tries to analyze to what extent people can change their cultural values and beliefs. Who does change? Who is the minority? Thus it presents an analysis of acculturation on different dimensions.

Furthermore, presents how culture has an important role on influencing people consuming behaviour therefore ethnic background is also part of this process. On this context, it presents why it is important for marketers to understand acculturation of ethnic subculture groups in a context of global activities. But it also demonstrates how these professionals make part of this process in two directions, not only trying to influence their consumer behaviour.


Acculturation and ethnic minority groups are intrinsic related considering that it is a process of learning a new culture (Schiffman and Kanuk 2007). However, it is not just considering it as a social process, beside the cultural exchange that exist between groups, there is also the involvement of marketers who try to influence people consumer behavior but in this case may also be influenced.

The studies about ethnic minority groups have been increasing due to their representative size, their purchasing power and concentration in a number of countries. Ethnic identity is an important element inside the analysis of consumer's behaviour (Jamal and Chapman 2000).

Marketers need to understand how the culture guide the consumer needs in order to know how to use this to influence them. But they also need to know how cultural factors can change when people from different cultures interact among each other. They need to know if the target market will accept a standardized product or service or if they seek for adaptation according to their original values and customs.

The aim of this paper is to analyze the term acculturation and the different perspectives which compose this study. Moreover, will try to analyse to what extent people can change their cultural values and how this can impact their consumer behaviour. It will also discuss some of the issues which also involve acculturation.

Literature Review

There is an extensive study about acculturation, how it happens and the issues related to this process, from different perspectives. Robert Park, sociologist, has stated that the contact between different cultures will take people to accommodate to the host culture in order to reduce conflicts. Anthropologists, as Redfield et al., also have highlighted that the interaction among people from different cultures will take them to be acculturated; however they consider that the changes can occur in both groups and not just in the considered minority (Padilla and Perez 2003).

Later or, these analysis were expanded with a psychological dimension, which has considered aspects of value system, roles and personality factors involved with acculturation. Its importance is related to the possibility of selection, which determines that actually people can decide if want to be acculturated or not, and will also choose which elements from its original culture will keep and which aspects from the new culture will incorporate (Social Science Research Council 1954).

This was supported by Berry et al. (in Wilson 2007) who developed a model of acculturation to describe its dimensions according to the level of cultural maintenance:

Integration: the acculturated group tries to maintain its own identity but it also tries to have a relationship with the hosting group;

Marginalization: the group neither maintains its own identity nor tries to have a relationship with the host group. Example: between 1950 and 1960, before the civil rights movement, African-American population in the US was marginalized;

Separation: the group just keeps its own identity and does not have a relationship with the host group;

Assimilation: the acculturated group does not maintain its cultural identity.

On the other hand, some authors actually consider acculturation as the process which involves marketers learning a different culture when they want to target a foreign market. They need to evaluate how they can attract these potential customers and how they can encourage them to modify their traditions (Schiffman and Kanuk 2007). This was the base of the study conducted by Peñaloza and Gilly (1999), who have indicated that marketers move and adapt from one cultural market system to another.

The study about acculturation is related to the existence of a different cultural group in a more complex society. According to Solomon (2002), inside a large society, it exist a subculture group which shares beliefs and experiences which make them different. The similarities which make them to belong to one subculture can be related to age, race, ethnic background, geographic and so on.

The ethnic background is one of the main subcultural reference which guides values and beliefs of a group. People have pride of their ancestor's language and customs and this is manifested on their preferences of food, clothes, music and so on (Schiffman and Kanuk 2007). However, according to Solomon (2002), it's difficult to define what represents an ethnic group. As an example, 70 to 90 % of people who define themselves as African Americans are actually a mix of races.

Moreover, many studies have indicated that ethnicity and different levels of acculturation have an influence on buying decision making of ethnic minority groups. (Jamal and Chapman 2000). D'Astos and Daghfous (1991) have also found, in their study conducted with Muslims who live in Canada, that their consumer behavior on searching for information, consumption and product preference varied according to their level of acculturation. Arab Muslims who were highly acculturated reflected in their consumptions their integration with the main culture. On the other hand, who were low acculturated reflected their maintenance of their cultural origin.

Main Body

The basic function of marketing activities is to understand consumers' wants and needs. Marketers need to understand what underlies their buying decision making process, what motivate and influence them, what they buy and why; and this is the base of consumer behavior which gives support for marketing strategies (Blackwell et al. 2001).

One of the factors which has a great impact on this process is culture, a broad concept which involves language, laws, religion, food customs, music and so on. All these factors are inserted in a society's values, beliefs and customs and will determine its behavior. As Schiffman and Kanuk (2007) state, culture represents a "society's personality". It is a guide for how people can satisfy their physiological, personal and social needs. It gives reference to what is need and what is luxury.

Moreover, as indicated by Solomon (2002), a society is composed by a main culture shared by the majority of the population, but it also has different subculture groups which share beliefs and experiences that make them different from the larger group; and one main subculture group is represented by ethnic background.

Ethnicity can indicate that members of a group will share the same characteristics on the base of their racial origins (Jamal and Chapman 2000). Or it can also indicate that individuals will establish identification according to their ethnic origin (Laroche et al. 1998).

These subcultures groups were created either in the same region due to history, politics and economic forces, as the east-west difference in Germany; or these same reasons have created a process of migration, as the great number of Hispanics in the United States and Muslim community in Europe (Palumbo and Teich 2004). This illustrates how societies are dynamics and the creation of what is denominated by ethnic minority groups is unavoidable.

However, there are many issues related to this process and especially to what happens when different cultures have direct contact. The first issue is what represents an ethnic minority group, who is the minority? As the point made by Solomon (2002) that in United States 70 to 90% of people who define themselves as African Americans are actually a mix of races.

How this minority can become a majority? The state of California has conducted one survey and actually the minority became the state's majority population (Schiffman and Kanuk 2007). In 1995, based on some studies, Timmins (1995) indicated that London would have 30% of its population composed by minority ethnic groups by this year.

Other issue is related to stereotyping and prejudice, which can occur when there is a division of ethnic minority groups inside a large society. Stereotype occurs when there is an assumption that individuals, who are members of a certain group, have certain traits.

Actually, stereotyping can be natural when there is a tentative of describing different cultures and it does not necessarily mean bad thing, it just depends on the way it is used (Schneider and Barsoux 2003). It can be a beginning, the initial reference that people acquire through experience, and which will be completed by new learning through contact. The important is to avoid prejudice.

Another important issue, which generates an extensive debate and which is very important for the study of consumer behavior is acculturation, which is an important point of analysis to understand what happens when different cultures come in contact. What the issues and outcomes are which involve minority ethnic groups inserted in the culture of the possible main group.

The importance of this study is based on the considerable size of these groups in some locations, their increasing purchasing power and how these contacts can affect their consumer behavior. According to Solomon (2002), in the United States, ethnic minorities

spend $600 billion a year; in UK, their disposable represent £32 billion (Sekhon and Szmigin 2009).

It was demonstrated that culture influences people decision making, however marketers need to understand how cultural values of an ethnic minority group can change when they are in contact with the considered mainstream culture. This will affect some decisions such as: should these groups be considered as a different target market? Should the strategy be standardized considering the whole population as similar or should be adapted taking in consideration these differences?

In fact, the discussion about acculturation involves these points: to what extent culture's values and beliefs of a subgroup can change? Who actually does change? What are the outcomes? Although, there are different perspectives for acculturation, two main words are the same for all of them: learning and change.

As it was mentioned before, based on sociologist perspective, Robert Park (in Padilla and Perez 2003) has conducted a study which identified that immigrants in contact with a dominant culture pass through a process of new culture assimilation gradually and which is definitive. However this vision is too restrictive, it does not take in account the dynamism of this process and how lasting and intrinsic some ties derived from ancestors can be.

Due to this, a more flexible perspective was presented by Redfield et al. (1936) who have considered that changes can occur, but it does not necessarily mean assimilation of the new culture, and actually can occur in both sides either in one group or both. This analysis is more coherent because considers the process in two directions. The interaction between two cultures can actually affect both of them; there is a process of exchange. Everybody can change and consequently some values and beliefs.

This is supported by Jamal and Chapman (2000), who consider that "no society is ever freed from change, and that all societies are, in some sense, constantly in a process of acculturation".

This idea was further developed by some authors, who take in consideration that people can decide if they want to change and what they will change. Berry et al (in Wilson 2007) model consider four dimensions of acculturation: integration, marginalization, separation and assimilation. Solomon (2002) has a similar model, but he considers adaptation instead of integration; maintenance instead of separation and segregation as substitute for marginalization.

Going further, Padilla and Perez (2003) with a psychologist perspective, has also considered acculturation as a selective process, but not as just a result of two cultures in contact. They indicate that individuals or groups inserted in a new culture can change their behavior depending on the social and environment conditions. In their opinion, people can acculturate in different ways, because they can have different influences such as religious, family structure, gender, power relationships, personal characteristics and so on.

Furthermore, for them, a psychological acculturation is based on social cognition, social identity and social stigma. The ethnic minority can redefine and reconstruct their personal and social identity which will consequently impact their preferences for food, clothes and so on.

Based on this, it is possible to consider that acculturation should not be taken to extreme and assume that ethnic minority groups will change their culture values completely. However the question about to what extent they change is a little more complicated. According to one study conducted by Synovate (2004), in the United States, only 11% of Hispanics are highly acculturated; 63% are partially acculturated and 26% are considerably unacculturated.

Moreover, one study about Mexicans-Americans has identified that across generations, mainly from the first to the second, although individuals keep some values from their culture as religion and food preferences, the group constantly reduces its awareness about its culture (Padilla in Wilson 2007).

Nevertheless, there is still another focus for acculturation, based on the analysis of the learning and changing process which involves marketers who want to target foreign markets. According to Schiffman and Kanuk (2007) marketers, who want to position a product in a market with a different culture, need to understand the local customs, values and beliefs. This will give them the necessary knowledge to attract these customers and to encourage them to modify their traditions.

According to Penaloza and Gilly (1999), actually "marketers and consumers of multiple cultures adapt to each other simultaneously". They have conducted a study with retailers of different cultures in California to understand their acculturation in order to attend the necessities of their Mexican immigrants' consumers. However, this research has a more interesting characteristic based in the fact that the retailers also represented an ethnic minority group.

These retailers had a role of teaching the Mexican immigrants about the mainstream culture; they had to learn the culture of this local community and actually they also changed in some extent. It is a process of multicultural exchanges which takes us to reflect about who changes.

Furthermore, they have constructed one model to illustrate how the process occurs and what impacts. They have identified that different factors related to individuals and companies represent differences in the acculturation process. They also have considered that marketers had different influential factors which help them to reflect about the necessity of adaptation. In addition, the acculturation process has occurred through interaction, listening and observing. Therefore, marketers could identify the differences in behavior and preferences, for example who preferred to use English and who preferred Spanish.

As a result, they had a strategy of adaptation which was based on three dimensions: Accommodating, which means adapting marketing strategies to achieve consumers wants and needs; Assimilating Mexican customers to U. S market system, trying to create demands of U.S market and teaching them about the regional culture; Negotiating consumers' resistance which was generated by culture's conflicts, for example the fact that Mexicans are not used to pay taxes.

This model to a certain extent brings elements from all other perspectives discussed before but instead of looking at acculturation as a result of interaction between people from different cultures, it brings this to the companies and marketers and how actually they are inserted in a process of multicultural interaction and fusion.


The term acculturation, in its essence, means the process of learning and change which occurs when an ethnic subculture group is inserted in a large society with different culture. However its analysis carries different perspectives and involves other participants in the process.

It is quite difficult to determine to what extent people change their cultural values and beliefs. It also involves a psychological process of how people perceive themselves in a society, how much they value their origin and how they can change their personality if they are exposed to a situation of stigma and prejudice. It is actually a difficult process once involves people therefore there is a subjective process which can vary from one person to another.

However, it is evident that people are influenced by their culture and to a certain extent they can change their values and beliefs depending on the circumstance and factors which will influence them. Moreover, acculturation actually involves a process of intergroup and intragroup interactions which reflects a multicultural exchange.

Marketers also are part of this process either using acculturation to analyze the consumer behavior of these subculture groups, identifying their wants and needs; or acting proactively trying to influence their cultural values and beliefs, but also being influenced by them to a certain extent.

It is important to emphasize that there is no magic recipe which defines consumer behavior. This is a difficult task which demands lot efforts from marketers and for which research represents a fundamental tool. Marketers actually need to evaluate to what extent ethnic minority groups may represent a niche market and therefore using acculturation process to define their consumer behavior may represent a differential.